A new chapter in the sporting annals of the Rosses will be written when the game of hurling will be played tomorrow Thursday, the 28th of March for the first time in the ‘Banks.” The Banks at Mullaghderg has been the hollowed turf for Lower Rosses sporting events for well over one hundred years, but the game of hurling or caman (as it was known locally) was never played there. This  playing ground par excellence is now home to Naomh Muire CLG.

The Banks, Mullaghderg before major developments

The game of caman, a popular team sport and has been documented in the Annals of the Rosses by its scribes. The following is an account of one such game that took place c1870s on Cruit Island. (1)

‘Among outdoor sports the favourite game was ‘caman’ or hurling, in which men sixty and seventy years of age could sometimes be seen engaging among the youths of the time and showing the truth of the old saying – The old bone for a tough tug and a hard blow. Tradition tells of a great challenge hurling match which took place long ago between the east side and middle section of Lower Rosses parish on Cruit Strand. The day was going hard with the Middle-sectioners who saw with dismay the ‘bool’ (ball or bowl) taken by their opponents from the ‘Bent Island’ almost to the foot of Kincasslagh road without being able to intercept it, when at last, just as victory was about to be proclaimed for the East-siders, Robin or Robert Campbell, of Cruit, got before the ‘bool’, turned it in its course and drove it triumphantly with blow after blow back again, without ever a check from the pursuing hundreds of the opposite side, to the ‘Bent Island,’ and won the game for his party.’

Cruit Strand from Kincasslagh Road

In the days before the hungry years of the 1840s, the first parish priest of Lower Templecrone, An Sagart James “Rua” McDevitt had quite a handling trying to coax parishioners to his newly roofed church. The playing of caman on the strand close to the church on a Sunday during mass was his greatest difficulty in achieving his goal.(2) Perseverance by the successive clergy prevailed, and ‘the clash of the ash’ became central to the parish recreational activities. At the end of the 19th century every townland in the Rosses boasted a caman team.The greatest exhibition of this ancient game came in the 1890s when Kincasslagh curate Father Dan Sweeney took his caman team to do battle with the men from the east.

In the following passage, Patrick O’Donnell, Belcruit chronicles this journey in his publication Athletes of the Rosses; Perhaps the first organised attempt to bring team honours home to the Rosses was made at the Games held in Letterkenny for the purpose of raising funds for St. Eunan’s Cathedral. At that time the late Father Dan Sweeney was curate in Kincasslagh, and well aware of the athletic prowess of his parishioners, he selected a Caman team and a Tug of War team from among the young men of the Lower Rosses to take part in the competitions. The Caman team included the following:- Charles McBride (Capt.), Gortnasate; Frank O’Donnell, Cruit Island (Goals); James Rodgers, Belcruit; Teague Ward, Meenbanad, Charles Boyle (Neil), Cruit Island; Hugh O’Donnell, Cruit Island; Seamus O’Donnell, Kincasslagh, – all of whom are now deceased. The sole surviving member of the team, is Charles O Donnell of Mullaghderg Mountain, who at the time of writing is 81 years of age and still hale and hearty.

Charles O’ Donnell

The Tug of War team included the following; – Charles O’Donnell, Ballymanus; Charles Harley (Neil), Braade; Charles Harley (James), Bradde; Charles Bonner, Arklands; Anthony Gallagher, Glenahilt; Andrew Sharkey, Keadue; James O’ Donnell, Ballymanus. The only one of the Tug of War Team now alive is John Boyle of Roshine. It was certainly a big undertaking at the time to convey two teams from the Rosses to Letterkenny, a distance of 40 miles over bad roads. There was no train in those days, no motor cars, no buses- nothing only the horse drawn side car- but Father Dan Sweeney was undaunted, for he knew the worth of the Rosses men, and he wished for nothing better than to see them tested against the best in the County. The day of the Games dawned, and Rosses people were early astir. The journey to Letterkenny via Glendowan, would take almost four hours, so that an early start had to be made. The skies were dark and sombre, as the members of the teams and supporters congregated at the meeting place in Kincasslagh. Then just before they set off on their long journey, the flood gates of the heavens opened, and the rain came down in torrents and it was in this deluge that the follower of the Rosses manhood set out to do battle for the honour of their parish. Thus began that nightmare journey over the bare, unsheltered roads of the Rosses, and the dark valleys of Glendowan. The Caman team were the first to leave, as the competition in which they were engaged was first on the programme. Soaked to the skin and frozen to the marrow, after their long journey by side car, they arrived in Letterkenny just as the first game was due to commence.

Misty Glendowan. Photo: Dónal Ó Searacaigh

The Rosses team had been drawn against Glenswilly. The men from the west did not ask for any postponement, in order to get dry clothing, but took and field immediately. The hardships they had suffered on their outward journey, seemed only to add sparkle to their play, as they rammed home, goal after goal, without reply against a Glenswilly team that was completely demoralised before the end. The final score was -Rosses – 8 Goals, Glenswilly -0. Rosses now met Letterkenny in the final. It was early apparent in this game that the Letterkenny team was to provide much stiffer opposition than Glenswilly, but the Rosses men now scenting victory, were not to be denied, and in the end ran out easy winners by 7 goals to 3. Positional changes were made in this game. Charles McBride replaced Frank O’ Donnell in goals, and the latter playing now in the forwards, put more bite into the attack. Very little can now be learned of the course of play in the final game. It can be reliable stated, however, that Hugh O’Donnell, of Cruit scored the first goal, booting the ball home as he lost his stick in a clash with an opponent. Seamus O’Donnell of Kincasslagh, though injured, played on to the end. Thus the Rosses Caman team had triumphed. The big question now was, would the Tug of War team emulate their deeds and so make victory complete. As was stated earlier, the Tug of Wart team had left home later that the Caman team and they were only arriving as the victorious ash wielders were leaving the field, then it was that a member of the Caman team addressed the Tug of war team. “Boys”, he said, “we have done our part-don’t let us down”. The Tug of War took place inside the Cathedral building, which was at that time unfinished. The first pull took place between Rosses and Letterkenny, and the hardier and heavier Rosses’ men had little difficulty in overcoming their opponents. In the final, the Rosses had to meet a team drawn from the R.I.C. in Derry. Big, brawny and powerful as the Rosses’ men were, they looked comparatively light, when matched against the Derry policemen. The pull was strenuous one. Supporters of both teams cheered, as first one and then the other side, faltered. The honour of the Rosses was at stake, however, and as one of t heir supporters said afterwards, it is doubtful if any team in Ireland could have the Rosses’ men on that occasion. With the cheers of their supporters ringing in their ears, the Rosses’ team dragged their formidable opponents across the line, and so a double victory was achieved. Each member of the victorious teams was presented with a silver medal, by the late Cardinal O’Donnell, who was then Bishop of Raphoe. In the course of a short address afterwards, the Bishop congratulated the men who had come from afar and gained the honours that day. Now began the long trek homewards, across the lonely mountains as night was falling. Good news travels fast, and as they neared the Rosses they could see the hills ringed with bonfires, as the people at home celebrated the victories obtained on that memorable day.

The caman men of tomorrow

On Thursday March 28th Rosses side An Clochan Liath host Aodh Ruadh under lights at the “Banks” starting at 6.30pm. Staring for the local team are Naomh Muire club members Odhran Duffy, Joseph Greene, Michael Greene, Martin Mannion, and Cathal Rodgers.

(1) Old Times and Ways in the Rosses by Anthony J. Doherty (1910)

(2) Story of the Rosses by Ben O’Donnell (1999)

By Jimmy Duffy March 2019